The Back MicThe Back Mic: Courts May Vacate ‘Abandoned’ Legislative Seats, Progressive Caucus is Formed, Quorum-Breakers Owe $750,000

This week — an attorney general opinion leaves abandoned House seats to the courts, 20 Democrats form a caucus to oppose “right-wing” legislation, and truant legislators owe three-quarters of a million dollars in repayments.
August 27, 2021
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Absentee Members Could Have Seats Vacated by Courts

District courts may vacate seats held by Texas legislators who skip town to break quorum, an opinion by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) stated this week. The question of vacating seats arose during the now-concluded 40-day quorum break by Texas Democrats.

Governor Greg Abbott hinted at the possibility in mid-July but no actions have since been taken. At the end of July, Rep. James White (R-Hillister) asked the OAG to evaluate the constitutionality of breaking quorum and the potential for vacating those members’ seats.

“[A] district court may determine that a legislator has forfeited his or her office due to abandonment and can remove the legislator from office, thereby creating a vacancy,” the non-binding legal opinion reads.

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It further adds, “Whether a specific legislator abandoned his or her office such that a vacancy occurred will be a fact question for a court and is beyond the scope of an Attorney General opinion.”

Nearly 60 House Democrats participated in the initial quorum break that ended last week when the chamber secured a quorum. Only the governor has the ability to order a special election, but according to the OAG, the process must first start at the district court level in the legislator-in-question’s home county.

Other consequences for the quorum-breaking members have been proposed in the House, but nothing has yet been officially approved.

20 Democratic Legislators Form Progressive Caucus

Now days removed from the end of their 40-day expatriation in Washington, D.C., 20 Texas House Democrats announced the formation of a “Progressive Caucus.” The caucus is aimed at “respon[ding] to increasingly radical, right-wing laws that hurt Texans.”

Chief among those “radical right-wing laws” is the GOP-backed election reform bill that prohibits curbside voting for non-disabled voters; forbids 24-hour voting but expands current operation hours to 16; bans the dispersing of unsolicited mail ballot applications; added protections for poll watchers; requires identification for mail ballots, like that which is already in place for in-person voters; and establishes other voter fraud proscriptions.

The Progressive Caucus’ founding membership consists of:

  • Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City), Chair
  • Jasmine Crockett (D-Houston), Vice Chair
  • Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson), Whip
  • Penny Morales Shaw (D-Houston), Secretary
  • Claudia Ordaz Perez (D-El Paso), Treasurer
  • Rafael Anchía (D-Dallas)
  • Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio)
  • Sheryl Cole (D-Austin)
  • Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio)
  • Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont)
  • Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)
  • Jessica González (D-Dallas)
  • Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin)
  • Celia Israel (D-Austin)
  • Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio)
  • Christina Morales (D-Houston)
  • Carl Sherman (D-DeSoto)
  • Shawn Thierry (D-Houston)
  • Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin)
  • Ramon Romero (D-Fort Worth)

“It’s time for us to get to work on the people’s priorities: fair and free elections, healthcare, climate action, good-paying jobs, public schools, and treating people with dignity not discrimination,” Reynolds said in the release.

“It’s time for elected officials to truly be the voice of the people — and this Caucus will be the people’s platform, their bully pulpit, and reflect Texas values in action and policy.”

$750,000 in Legislator Pay Hasn’t Been Repaid by Quorum-Breaking Democrats

Roughly three quarters of a million dollars in legislative per diems has not been reimbursed by Texas Democrats who fled the state to break quorum. According to a release by the Texas House Republican Caucus (THRC), 53 members have outstanding per diem repayments.

House members are paid $221 per day during legislative sessions on top of their $600 per month salary. That comes out to $6,630 per month.

One of the first orders by Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) after the initial quorum break was that members reimburse the state for their payments received while refusing to appear in the chamber.

“It is past time for the Democrat charade to come to an end,” said Chairman Jim Murphy (R-Houston).

“Not only must these Texas Democrats return home and do the jobs they were elected to do, but they should also return the taxpayer dollars they have been collecting while skipping town and failing to show up for work.”

Some House Democrats expressed opposition at the time to repaying their per diems and the outstanding sum shows many have not budged from that position.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.